The Most Common PTSD Myths and Symptoms, and How to Cope

By Laurie Santos

“The dark night of the soul is a journey into light, a journey from your darkness into the strength and hidden resources of your soul.” ~Caroline Myss

Growing up in a household with both parents, my grandmothers, and pets, people often assumed we were the picture-perfect family. I participated in dance classes, sports, and we also had a lot of extended family gatherings. We lived in a pretty nice neighborhood, went to good schools, and both of my parents worked and were educated.

But, from a very young age, I witnessed and experienced frightening events and images no child should ever have to see and go through. While I normalized these ongoing inappropriate and tragic images and incidents, I had no idea what they were doing to my mental and emotional health.

I was often afraid to go to bed as a child—I knew I would wet it and that I’d be ridiculed by my father the next morning for doing so.

Family members and friends would constantly point out to me that I would jump and flinch at any loud noise and in my teens till early twenties, people who knew me well told me I was defensive, ready to fight, and had a chip on my shoulder.

They were right.

I was.

Being raised in a hectic household felt like a pressure-cooker that kept me on high-alert and walking around on eggshells.

While my family was good at making sure we had a roof over head, they were also good at making sure I did not divulge family secrets, kept up appearances at all times, and were ultra-focused on image-management.

In fact, they were so good at convincing us we were stable and normal that I overlooked my father’s love of rage, intense frustration, silent-treatment, stonewalling, and dizzying word-salad-speak. I also chose to look away when he’d give a really good and thorough spanking.

My mother’s idea of coping was avoiding, not speaking up, and ignoring tough family moments and me.

Because I considered myself to be strong, I chose to speak up on her behalf, protect her, as well as focus on only the good things that happened in our family while suppressing all of the darkness that our family was centered around.

While I was so busy feeling the need to protect others, I didn’t feel psychologically or physically protected in my own household.

At the same time, I found myself trying to get away from the constant chaotic energy in my household by hiding out in my bedroom while writing copious journal entries trying to make sense of the scariness and secrets.

Despite requesting from my parents several times to see a family therapist, I was always met back with, “Why? We don’t believe in therapy. We’re fine. There’s no reason to go.”

I was clearly asking for support but was being denied the help I felt I needed.

The first time I ever saw a therapist was when I was eighteen. My college offered therapy as part of our tuition and I couldn’t wait to go. I’m not sure that I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about back then, but I think I was hoping the therapist would have a magic question that would unleash a series of answers regarding my deep feelings, sensitivities, and challenging upbringing.

Sadly, when both sessions with that college therapist resulted in him asking me to talk to a teddy bear and punch it, I never went back.

It wasn’t till I was in my mid-twenties when I saw my next therapist because I was concerned about a relationship I was in at the time. On occasion, I brought up my upbringing, and so that therapist administered Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a common technique used with PTSD patients and people who’ve experienced trauma. Unfortunately, it was not clearly explained why we were doing EMDR, and so the core problem wasn’t really addressed and I left work with that therapist with no diagnosis.

In 2018, after a series of ongoing events within my family, I chose estrangement. While I’d been working in the mental health industry for two decades, I had no idea how estrangement would wreak havoc on my emotional well-being. I truly was not well-prepared for taking such a devastating decision.

Immediately, I was plagued with a daily bombardment of terrifying childhood and adult memories I had completely forgotten. No matter what I did or how I coped, they painfully persisted.

Insomnia became my new “best friend” and I felt agitated, apathetic, and numb.

In waking life, intrusive and bizarre invasive images came to me from nowhere, and while trying to keep it altogether, I wondered if I was losing my mind and what would happen to me.

I always felt I knew myself well. And, I considered myself to be practical, pragmatic, and down-to-earth. Additionally, I’d never been scared to face any challenge head-on, but this seemed to be a beast that wouldn’t quit.

In life, I was a go-getter, went after my dreams, traveled the world, and had been working for myself for the past seventeen years.

In fact, I worked hard and diligently through yoga, breath-work, journaling, Reiki, coaching, therapy and so many other modalities to get to my truth. But, making this one choice to be estranged from my family—which I felt was the best and only option at that point to preserve my well-being—seemed to open up Pandora’s Box and no matter how many tools I had, it felt like nothing worked.

From the summer of 2018 till January 2020, I didn’t recognize myself.

I felt disengaged from life and from my soul.

I didn’t want to go outside, which was odd because I’m a huge nature-lover.

I lost interest in my favorite hobby and pastime of surfing. This felt so shocking—it felt so counter-intuitive. I had no reason to no longer want to surf but suddenly I felt so removed from it.

Life was blah, dull, and I felt completely disconnected.

Not being able to access the root-cause of what I thought might be an identity-crisis left me terror-stricken—especially being a hopeful and optimistic person.

One day, after constant communication with my husband over my family estrangementand resulting emotional chaos, my husband told me, “I don’t think I’m equipped to help you anymore. I think it’s time to see a therapist.”

He was right. While I tried to use my tools daily, I needed somebody highly trained to inform me of what I was actually going through and what to expect. I made an immediate appointment with a local psychologist and felt relieved that some answers might be around the corner.

As my husband and I waited in the doctor’s office for the therapist to call my name, I felt excited and curious.

The therapist conducted a full intake which left me feeling relieved and shocked—in all the years I’d worked with countless therapists, I’d never had a proper intake! The intake was comprehensive, and I was given the chance to talk about my childhood all the way up till present-day.

Once I completed the intake, the therapist said, “You have PTSD. You’ve experienced trauma and abuse. I want you to see a specialist.”

With just those few sentences, I felt my whole body relax. My shoulders lightened. My jaw was no longer stiff. I had so much more headspace and it was like I finally knew the truth. In that moment, I stopped buying into focusing only on all the good times of my childhood and finally faced openly the dysfunction that was there, too.

I’d worked so hard all my life to keep up the appearance and image of having a perfect family that without even realizing it, I was doing extreme damage to myself by not admitting what I’d been through and witnessed.

It’s been nearly six months since my diagnosis, and I can gratefully say that life has come back to my version of “normal” and fulfilling. I’m back on my surfboard and am joyful and curious about life again. The invasive images have stopped and I’m sleeping better.

Being diagnosed with PTSD didn’t feel like a stigma; it actually brought me back home to me. PTSD brought my soul back to life.

Debunking Myths

There are many myths surrounding the topic of PTSD that I feel are important to debunk.

Myth #1: PTSD only happens to war veterans.

Truth: Research shows that children and people who’ve never experienced combat can have PTSD. People can experience PTSD if they’ve been in an accident, experienced any form of abuse and dysfunction, or even through the course of grieving the death of a loved one.

Myth #2 PTSD is something that only happens to men.

Truth: About 10 percent of women will experience PTSD in their lifetime and women are twice as likely to develop PTSD to men. Between 3 and 15 percent of girls who’ve had a trauma develop PTSD and between 1-6 percent of boys who’ve experienced some form of trauma develop PTSD.

Myth #3 Your therapist or doctor will diagnose you straight away.

Truth: PTSD is commonly overlooked and often goes undetected. One of the reasons this happens is because a person might not experience the PTSD symptoms straight away; in fact, sometimes it isn’t until years later that an individual starts to experience symptoms related to a traumatic event. Additionally, therapists require that a patient experience all of the documented symptoms of PTSD or at least one the symptoms for one straight month.

In my case, it took me two decades, countless therapists, mental health professionals, coaches and healers before I was finally officially diagnosed with PTSD this year.

Myth #4: PTSD only happens due to recurring events.

Truth: One event can be enough to bring on PTSD.

Myth #5 You cannot function or live the life of your dreams if you have PTSD.

Truth: Sometimes undiagnosed PTSD is the very thing that is preventing you from moving forward on your life plans and goals because without you knowing it, the symptoms are preventing you from focus, clarity, and confidence. It is absolutely possible to live the life you desire even if you have PTSD.

Myth #6: You’re not normal and cannot have a fulfilling life if you have PTSD.

Truth: You are normal. You’re still whole and complete even if you have PTSD. And, it is possible that you can have an even more fulfilling, peaceful, and connected life once receiving such a diagnosis because you will learn how to manage and minimize symptoms while practicing being more mindful, still, and deeply engaged in your life.

Common Symptoms

  • Walking around defensively. Waiting for somebody to shout, attack, or hurt you. Walking around on eggshells and hyper-vigilance.
  • Hyper-arousal. Jumping and flinching at the sound of a door slamming, loud noises, or family or friends yelling and talking loudly.
  • Possibly angry when you hear another chew loudly, swallow or gulp, or even the smell of cigarettes or another substance may put you on edge and make you irritable.
  • Feeling claustrophobic or annoyed if somebody stands too close to you in the supermarket or on the street.
  • May not be able to tolerate crowds or a lot of people.
  • Ruminating, having obsessive thoughts or intrusive thoughts that scare you. Sudden invasive images while awake that are random, seem to make no sense and go against your core values
  • Digestion issues and food allergies
  • Over-working and perfectionism
  • People-pleasing and proving
  • Over-explaining, justifying, over-apologizing
  • Feeling numb, disconnected, apathetic
  • Dissociation blacking out
  • Brain fog—mixing up words like saying “yesterday” instead of tomorrow
  • Decreased interest in things that once truly mattered and were enjoyable to you
  • Inability to remember trauma or have blocked it
  • A flooding of difficult memories or instances throughout your waking day
  • Insomnia or constant disrupted sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Difficult focusing

 Tips for Coping with PTSD

The tips below are a little “toolkit” I put together with my therapist, as well as extensive research I conducted. While I have found these tips have helped me with my PTSD, this is not a “one-size-fits-all” package. You may have to experiment a bit on what works best for you. For me, using a combination of the tips below helped a lot.

1. Guided meditation and guided visualization.

With PTSD, it’s important to give the brain a break, to calm down your adrenals and stop trauma and anxiety responses. Positive guided visualization helps reduce stress and has you visualize successful and positive scenarios while also having you focus on the breath.

2. Reiki, massage and acupuncture (if you don’t have a phobia with needles).

If touch triggers you, this may not be the coping method for you. For me, these modalities showed me I was safe to be touched and were very relaxing.

3. Stress-reducing foods.

Studies have shown that eating blueberries, dairy, non-processed cheese, green vegetables, almonds and drinking chamomile tea have a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms while brining on rather immediate calm.

4. Pet therapy.

Petting your cat, listening to their purrs for example, have shown some ways to calm the nerves and help soothe the PTSD symptoms.

5. Mantras and meditation.

Research shows that saying or chanting a mantra during meditation have been one of the most beneficial ways to reduce PTSD symptoms.

6. Practicing gentleness.

Consciously and intentionally eat, drink, talk, drive, shower, brush your teeth, and all other daily activities gently. When practicing gentleness, you respond versus react and are less prone to trauma and anxiety responses.

7. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol.

Studies show alcohol and caffeine trigger nightmares, invasive images, and rev up the central nervous system.

8. Listening to binaural beats.

The tones and beats of binaural beats have been shown to significantly help with better and deeper sleep, reduce anxiety, help boost confidence, and encourage relaxation.

My hope in sharing my personal story of having PTSD is that you will reframe your PTSD experience by seeing just how resilient and courageous you actually are. Instead of believing PTSD is a debilitating disorder, I hope you can view it as something that challenges you to find your truth and wakes you up to what matters most in your life so you can live the life of your dreams and purpose.

About Laurie Santos

Laurie Santos is a Certified Co-Creative and Co-Active Life Coach of seventeen years. She’s also a Reiki Master, has a Master of Science in Justice and a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. Since 2007, Laurie’s been an expat having lived in Africa, The Middle East, and Europe. You can sign up for her Soul Supplements newsletter at lifecoachlaurie.comor check out her weekly Soul Session at Instagram at Life Coach Laurie.Web | More Posts

Post-traumatic stress isn’t a disorder, it’s life

Mon., March 2, 2020

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD as it is known, is supposedly rampant. Although the label should be used only for extreme cases, PTSD is mentioned casually and frequently. It is indeed a story of the moment.

There is always a story of the moment. It rises and crests, and then attention turns elsewhere, having occupied busy minds without sparking new insights or creating permanent help.

The suffering of people who are said to have PTSD, such as firefighters and the homeless, is not a disorder, it’s normal, writes Heather Mallick.
The suffering of people who are said to have PTSD, such as firefighters and the homeless, is not a disorder, it’s normal, writes Heather Mallick.

Post-9/11, books with “American” in the title had a sales boost, so for a decade books listed alphabetically crowded into the A section. At various times, with occasional flashbacks, we have been bombarded with fringe medical cases, misery memoirs, tales of tidying and discarding, breast cancer, veganism (a form of tidying), Generation Z anger, and now aging and death (boomers are aging and dying).

But PTSD, on the other hand, keeps rolling along because it has a crisp abbreviation and seems to explain so much when it really only begins to explain. It’s so handy.

PTSD is a psychiatric diagnosis for some people who have seen or experienced terrible trauma, often in the course of their job. Allegedly 9.2 per cent of Canadians (but only 3.5 per cent of Americans, which seems implausible) will suffer it in their lifetime, with women being diagnosed twice as much as men.

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As with COVID-19, amorphous conditions tend to breed unreliable numbers. The disorder is allegedly worsened by a lack of social support and life explosions, like job loss or divorce. But isn’t everything?

PTSD causes nightmares and flashbacks. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, sufferers think negatively, feeling irrational fear, anger, guilt and shame. They live on permanent edge, leaving them irritable, numb, emotionally distant and unable to sleep. They may often feel like something terrible is about to happen, even when they are safe.

Here is where I part company with the very idea of PTSD, as opposed to PTS. I do not think such reactions are a disorder. Instead, they are the reactions of any sane person to a horrible event outside their control. The last two sentences of the previous paragraph are a crisp description of how most Canadians feel about Donald Trump being the American president, or how I feel in a large grocery store. Call it PTSR, post-traumatic stress reaction.

There is such a thing as the over-medicalization of life, with people being misdiagnosed or overdiagnosed in tandem with the view that says traumatized people should toughen up, get a grip, and just do their job. But they can’t because they’re traumatized. The “disorder” is a sane and understandable response.

Look at the people said to suffer PTSD: dispatchers, nurses, police, firefighters, jail guards, rape victims, jurors, homeless LGBTQ people, prisoners, gig workers, stabbing victims, women in rural work camps who can’t escape their rapist, the overworked, those worried by climate change, older people isolated by storms, prosecutors in the Flint, Mich., water poison case, and migrant parents who had their children taken at the U.S. border.

I believe them. Those jobs can wreck people. I won’t mock them by saying they suffer from a disorder. No, they suffer from being rape victims, police, firefighters, nurses, migrants whose children were stolen, etc.

Psychiatry helps, but it can also distort. The word “stigma” is overused — in a particular situation, anything can be stigmatized — but why call coping with life a psychiatric condition? It’s a condition, surely, but a normal one.

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PTSD can be used like an elastic band, stretched far beyond its meaning. When an Edmonton man, Silva Koshwal, claimed PTSD flashbacks in 2015 caused him to stab his ex-girlfriend to death, remove her heart, ovaries and uterus, and nail that heart to the wall, well, no.

Airplane passengers say PTSD requires the company of their emotional support animal, but can’t provide a psychiatrist’s letter, not even to over-medicalize their natural stressed state.

Here we sit, with the planet baking and COVID-19 hoping to travel to Canada and stay in the cheap Airbnbs that are our lungs. That is stressful, which is normal. What if you come down with the coronavirus? What name should we give that kind of stress? Perhaps PTS-19 would cover it.

Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick

How Cold Water Can Treat Depression, PTSD, and Improve Overall Mental Health

This guest post comes courtesy of Justin Faraday; blogger, health and nutrition enthusiast, and a survivor of trauma.

“As far as my health is concerned, Justin writes…I definitely didn’t win the genetic lottery. I’ve struggled with a variety of medical issues since I was young, and spent my childhood and first decade of adulthood wandering through a fog of stress and discomfort. I was anxiety-ridden, depressed, and physically felt like garbage.

A lot of my issues I was able to link back to chronic inflammation and acidic body chemistry due to food intolerances. What challenges were left over I chalked up to the sexual abuse I endured between the ages of five and nine.

What I was stunned to discover was how much better I felt once I started to heal my gut and balance my hormone levels through diet and exercise. It took several years of commitment to my new habits before my health really started to turn around. I eventually became an EMT and worked the streets of Seattle for a couple of years before moving on.

Having to fight through my health issues sharpened my observation skills and made me determined to share my journey.”

Thank you Justin for sharing your insight into this unique way of helping to deal with PTSD, Depression, and overall Mental Health.  If you’d like to share your story of being a survivor, or write about any mental health topic that you are passionate about, go ahead and contact me and let’s do it!

Cold exposure therapy, or hydrotherapy, may help reduce depression, chronic fatigue, and symptoms of PTSD by directly impacting brain chemistry. This is my story of how getting comfortable with the cold helped heal my broken brain. After I tell my tale, we’ll jump into the research behind what makes hydrotherapy an effective treatment for common mental health issues. 

I Never Could Stand The Cold

Justin Faraday - Profile Bio - Guest Blogger - Surviving My Past

Justin Farady

I hated the cold growing up. It was my kryptonite. I remember trying to swim at the local indoor pool in Menominee, MI. I could stay in the water for 10 minutes max. Then I’d spend another five huddled underneath the heat lamp (they have those in Michigan) before trying to brave the water again. I was a skinny little bugger without much insulation. An underactive thyroid was also likely part of the problem. I spent the majority of my life avoiding cold water. 

Depressed and Unable To Exercise, I Was Forced To Take The Plunge

Then I decided to “teach” myself how to swim at the age of 23. I was extremely depressed and still feeling the reverberating effects of PTSD from sexual abuse. My whole life, I could never stay afloat for longer than thirty seconds, and swimming was always an uncomfortable struggle. 

As my mental health continued to flounder, my physical health was getting even worse. I couldn’t run without my knees spontaneously screaming in pain. My joints and soft tissues were inflamed and calcified, especially my spine. My shoulders were locked up and not very mobile. I ended up finding out later that I had symptoms very similar to ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a condition where the spine calcifies and fuses together. 

Craving exercise, and having no other option, I started getting up early and driving to a tiny puddle of a lake in Bellingham, WA called Toad Lake. I’d throw myself into the chilly morning waters and splash around until I figured out how to control my breathing. By the end of the summer, I was swimming back and forth across the lake! If that wasn’t shocking enough, the real surprise was the effect that the cold water had on my mental health. 

The Cold Was Like A Jolt Of Life

I started to notice how much better I felt on the days that I swam. My brain felt alive and in the moment. I felt calmer, a feeling that would last from my 9 am swim until finishing work late at night. My memory started getting better too, probably because it was so much easier to focus. I felt emboldened to speak my mind in situations where I would typically feel stifled. I started researching to see if anyone else had similar experiences with the cold. Then I discovered a man named Wim Hof.

Wim Hof and His Pioneering Cold Exposure Therapy

Wim Hof’s wife, who had been battling the onset of schizophrenia, had recently killed herself. Hof was depressed and needed to take dramatic measures to stay mentally healthy for his three children. He began experimenting with cold exposure and breathing techniques. The cold, Hof says, “is our teacher.”

Vice Magazine has an intriguing documentary on the guy that you can find on YouTube. This Scandinavian man has accomplished some stunning feats. Hof has proven that the human brain is capable of consciously controlling aspects of the autonomic nervous system, which was previously thought to be impossible. His escapades have literally forced scholars to rewrite textbooks on the topic. 

Hof’s methods are easily teachable. In one experiment, he taught his techniques to a group of new students in under five days. Then, in a laboratory setting, doctors injected Hof and the students with a strain of bacteria that should have guaranteed sickness. Neither Hof nor the students became sick. *

Hof has set records for being able to withstand cold. He has hiked well above the “death zone” of Mt. Everest in nothing more than shoes and a pair of shorts. He regularly teaches students to do the same. Hof also holds several world records for immersion in ice and is able to keep his core body temperature elevated the entire time. Hof claims that he has helped students overcome depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder. 

More Research Into Cold Exposure Therapy

Myself, Wim Hof, and his students aren’t the only ones who have had positive experiences with cold exposure therapy. Hippocrates recommended hydrotherapy as a treatment for mental weakness. Germanic cultures in the 1800s used cold water immersion to treat a variety of diseases. Modern research continues to carry the torch and has made several intriguing findings. 

The cold and wetness cause the skin and blood vessels to constrict. This forces more blood to the brain and vital organs, oxygenating and rejuvenating them. When the vessels relax, the blood sweeps away waste byproducts. Think of it as an oil change for your brain and organs. 

One study found that cold exposure therapy reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are strongly linked to clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD.**

Another study determined that bathing in cold water may help normalize the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is commonly underactive in people with depression and PTSD.***

Research conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine recommends cold showers for treating both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.****

Give Cold Exposure Therapy A Shot!

The Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine recommends taking one or two 2-3 minute cold showers a day at 20 degrees Celsius for depression. Ease into it by spending the first five minutes gradually adjusting to a colder temperature before blasting the cold. 

Although some folks with anxiety experience a reduction in anxiety symptoms, for others, cold exposure can make anxiety worse. Thankfully, there are tons of other anxiety remediesout there including herbs like ashwagandha and alternative therapies like flotation therapy. I’ve had huge success with both of these. Thanks for hearing my story! Wishing you all the best as you strive for a healthier brain 🙂  

Author Bio:

Justin Faraday is a former EMT and massive health and nutrition enthusiast. After struggling with his health for many years, he got serious about feeling incredible. Get stellar mental health and nutrition advice at his blog, Dope.Fresh.Fit.